A Bad Apology is Worse Than No Apology

“A Bad Apology is Worse Than No Apology”  is the chapter I just reread in Randy Pausch’s best seller “The Last Lecture . ”  Many know that this book capsulizes the school’s traditional retiring professor last lecture that was given by Randy Pausch at  Carnegie Mellon.

For Randy Pausch, It turned out to be a father’s  love letter and words of advice to his young children that he wanted to leave as his legacy to them as he prepared for death due to being diagnosed with an aggressive terminal form of pancreatic cancer. 

When he speaks about  apologies as one of the most important skills to to learn in our lives.  Giving a good apology strengthens relationships and heals wounds. Insincere apologies translate into insults.  When we do not apologize for things we have done wrong to people, Pausch compares it to an “infection” that festers in  relationships.

He said that the two worse types of apologies are:


  1. ‘I’m sorry you feel hurt by what I have done.’  ( You are not really wanting to put medicine on the wound)
  2. ‘I apologize for what I did, but you also need to apologize to me for what you’ve done.’ ( You really wanting an apology and not asking for one).

I was amazed that a person facing death felt so strongly about advising his children about the power of apologizing well.   Pausch even pointed out that if someone owed us an apology to not let it eat at us but to worry more about who we owe apologies to because of what we have done. He said some people may not respond to our sincere apologies, but more often than not, most do later down the road.  They just needed to be at that right emotional place that was triggered by our reaching out to them.

He outlined these 3 steps:

Proper apologies have three parts:

  1. What I did was wrong.
  2. I feel badly that I hurt you.
  3. How do I make you feel better?  ( pg. 162, The last Lecture, by Randy Randy Pausch, 2008))

I often think in my own life of the half hearted attempts I have made where I have not been as sincere as I should have been in my apologies. Even more disconcerting is thinking about not being aware of any actions where I may have hurt someone’s feelings or offended someone without knowing it.

Many of the lackluster apologies or non-apologies  accumulate within the walls of our own homes hurting the ones we love the most. 


How many wives have had their hearts broken by the insensitive words and actions of their husbands? 

How many children have felt a undeserved ( as if it is ever deserved) sharp deflation of their self image by a harsh parent with no reconciliation following it? 

How many teenagers have belittled their parents and not made amends?

Family is where the work starts in improving this skill that Pausch advocates to his children and to us all to cultivate in our lives.  To be able to apologize well and to remember to do it when it is warranted would certainly make our lives and relationships better. 

Ever the Professor, he reminds us, ” When giving an apology, any performance lower than an A really doesn’t cut it.”     Thanks Randy, for reminding us all.





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